Take factionalism out of the abuse debate

By Emma Burnell / @EmmaBurnell_

And lo it came to pass that a woman wrote an article on internet abuse. And thusly was she further abused, lied about, deliberately misquoted, patronised and threatened. And the people looked on and said with one voice “yeah, but whatabout…”.

And on the second day, another woman spoke of her abuse on Twitter. And she was of a different tribe to the first woman, with a different leader. And thusly was she further abused, lied about, deliberately misquoted, patronised and threatened. And the people looked on and said with one voice “yeah, but whatabout…”.

And on the third day, a third woman, of another tribe still wrote a rather silly biblical-style parable about online abuse. And then she switched off notifications on her phone, knowing what would be waiting for her when she returned.


Look I get it. The rough and tumble of politics isn’t the nicest place to be and nor should it be necessarily. People are rightly angry and that anger needs democratic representation. That should make those with power uncomfortable.

The Labour Party has been a particularly uncomfortable place to be for both sides of our increasingly stupid internal conflict.

Aggrievement at the treatment metered out by a few fanatics has led to far too harsh a judgement on all those attracted by the Corbyn project. People who already felt voiceless and marginalised were told their anger was unwelcome. This did not make them less angry. Of course the Labour Party must be a place where we try to deal with that pain rather than reject it outright. But it can’t be a place where we cause more pain in dealing with that anger. That’s the delicate balancing act that everyone from Progress to Momentum have to deal with now.

We are always going to disagree with each other over the direction and future of the Labour Party. We are always going to have arguments about what our policy priorities are and should be. We need to have those debates in a robust manner – it’s what strengthens our policies and practices.

But we need to take the factionalism out of our response to abuse. And that means all of us. That means me too. Because I know I do not always live up to the ideals I would ask others to abide by. I have to examine my own conscience and behaviour as much if not more so than anyone else.

I am trying to live by a few simple rules when it comes to abusive behaviour.

Firstly, call it out – no matter who it is or who it’s aimed at. This is especially true if the person doing the abusing is someone you normally think of as on your “side”.

Secondly, believe people when they say they are abused. Again, this is especially important when it is people who you wouldn’t normally agree with. They have a right to challenge you in a non-abusive way and a non-abusive space. It is up to all of us to help create that.

Finally, and most difficultly, if someone accuses you of being abusive, wonder if you are. Wonder why they might think that. It may be that you don’t feel you have been abusive, but this can be wholly subjective. If you don’t think you have, ask why they do. Turn a confrontation into a conversation. You may still end up disagreeing, but perhaps we could all do so less disagreeably.

Three simple rules that are not always that simple to follow. We will all fall down at times. It’s human. But let’s try to exemplify the best of our humanity to those we share our space with.

Emma Burnell is co-editor of Open Labour

You may also like

Labour needs to Forge a New Consensus within the Party and Country by Andrew Ryder | 10.11.22 | In: Comment I am a Labour member living in Hungary but still able to participate in the party through Labour International, a constituency Labour Party set up for members... Read More
Labour Students has a race problem by Open Labour | 04.06.16 | In: Comment By Huda Elmi / @hudacabdulaziz Labour Students is as institutionally racist as it has always been, and this will not change under the proposal of One Member... Read More
The two-child cap is a poor fit for Labour by Lauren Davison | 23.07.23 | In: Comment Labour members were blindsided by Keir Starmer's recent commitment to keep George Osborne’s two child-cap on benefits. Thanks to Tory austerity, 1 in 4... Read More
Review: Michael Chessum’s ‘This Is Only The Beginning’ by Barry Coppinger | 18.11.22 | In: Comment I joined the Labour Party in Autumn 1979, within 6 months of the economic and social carnage beginning under Thatcher. Tony Benn in the late 70’s and 80’s... Read More